2 March 2019

Olav Terje Bergo:

The stubborn blindness of the defenders of Barnevernet 

a critical article in the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende 7th February, jointly written by professor Dag Nordanger, professor Elisabeth Gording Stang and researcher Elisabeth Backe-Hansen of Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), with critical remarks to an earlier feature article in the same newspaper by professor emeritus and medical doctor Eivind Meland, Bergen, they made the following claim, in support of their view: 

"The new report from The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision, confirms that the takeover of children occurs only in very serious situations."

This imprecise reference to the content of the report from The Norwegian Board of Health Supervision, published in January, is simply not true. It is a bluff that the report supports such a claim. It is also a bluff that it is so, in the real world, when Norwegian children are taken over by Barnevernet. 

The investigation made by The Board of Health Supervision, ordered by the Ministry of Children in 2016, is a study of all the written material from Barnevernet and the Regional Boards (County Boards) with administrative authority to take children from their parents, concerning 106 cases and 129 children. 

The investigators of The Board of Health Supervision did not check the facts presented to them by Barnevernet and the Regional Boards, against the opinions and facts, as they are seen by the children and their families at the core of the documents of the 106 cases studied. 

The mandate for the investigation, given to The Board of Health Supervision by the Ministry of Children, opened for such a check of facts found in the documents, against the realities seen by children, their parents, relatives and others. But this mandate option was not used by the Board of Health Supervision, and the reason given for not checking the facts with the concerned children and parents, is not trustworthy. 

I suspect the real reason for not checking out the stories described in the Barnevernet documents against the experience of the children and families at the core of those cases, was that it would have made the Barnevernet house of cards collapse. 

The report does, however, leave several questions open for further investigation and journalism. To name one: The report notes that in a number of takeover cases, Barnevernet did not speak to the child at all before the takeover. The investigators searched for explanations for this obvious neglect, but did not find any explanation in the documents, not in any of those cases. Such a practice certainly raises very critical questions. 

For news professionals and researchers with integrity, it certainly sounds incredible that a prestigious investigation into a field of great controversy and political concern did not include the children and families that had their cases studied. In fact, it is even worse. The families at the core of the investigation haven’t even been informed that their cases have been studied by the investigators of The Board of Health Supervision. The Ministry and the Parliament had a law tailor-made, to let the investigators take a deep look into their documented life, without asking for consent from children and parents. It’s not nice. Is this really ethically acceptable research? 

In view of the known culture of dishonesty in Barnevernet, this fundamental flaw should have made the three Barnevernet supporters think twice, before using the Health Board report as ammunition against professor Meland's article. 

But there are more blinking red lights, which the Barnevernet defenders from OsloMet did not see. The 106 cases studied are not representative of all the takeover cases in Norway during the two years studied. In the report, this is explained clearly and seems to be well considered and completely acceptable. But even if the 106 cases had been drawn in a way that made it representative for all the takeover cases, 106 cases would not by far be a large enough sample to allow cocksure conclusions. 

To conclude, The Board of Health Supervision's report does not support the assertion made by the Barnevernet defenders Nordanger, Backe-Hansen and Gording Stang. But neither does the report support the opposite. However, the report gives several facts in support of professor Meland: Almost all of the 129 children in the study, taken over by Barnevernet, did stay in touch with their family after the takeover, according to the report. In 37 of those, there was a supervisor present when child and parents met. Eleven of the 129 children were moved to a new address which is kept secret from their parents (page 63 in the report). 

The report of 106 child takeover cases from The Board of Health Supervision, though flawed, raises several issues of great public interest. Researchers and teachers undermine their reputation by making false claims about the content of the report. The major findings and judgements in the report are critical or very critical to the documentation, practice and proceedings of Barnevernet. There is really a giant potential for improvement, both for The Board of Health Supervision, The Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir), The Regional Boards and the municipal councils. But that was really well known to all those who did not look the other way. It is disappointing that the defenders of Barnevernet are affected by blindness, even after the flawed, but critical Health Board report. 

Since the newspaper Bergens Tidende had published a report with a false statement, I was surprised that the newspaper denied professor Meland and me the opportunity to publish a defense in print. I was, however, given the opportunity to join the BT online discussion with the above arguments.


The Board of Health Supervision's report:

Det å reise vasker øynene
(Travel cleanses the eyes)
January 2019

The Board's English web page:
The Board of Health Supervision

The Board's Norwegian web page:

Article relating the Board's report to human rights judgements:

Anita Skippervik:
Norwegian methods of investigation of child protection cases do not meet international standards
2 March 2019